UX design, as the name suggests, is supposed to create better experiences for the end user. There’s nothing new about this concept, but the rise of mobile forced web designers to adopt a new kind of UX mantra. It didn’t end with web design though; now, marketers, business owners and anyone with a domain name understand the principle of creating better experiences.
On the one hand, this is a good thing because it means the importance of user experience is well-known. But we’ve also ended up with this “everyone’s a UX designer” mentality, which leads to some UX design practices that actually end up harming the user experience.
I’ve been guilty of this as much as anyone over the years, learning (the hard way) that you can’t make any assumptions when it comes to users’ best interests.
The trap of UX design best practices
These things are everywhere. From mobile navigation to CTA design, there are best practices for just about design choice you could ever come across. And these are great for learning the ropes of web design, don’t get me wrong. They can also be useful for designing generic templates that need to appease the masses – but that’s about their limit.
Theme shops like ThemeForest are a hotbed of UX “best practices,” if that’s what you need.
The thing with best practices is they can only tell you what quite often worked in the past for a bunch of users you’re not designing for. They don’t give you any insights into what kind of experience the people you’re designing for need or expect.
I think it’s safe to say most designers are well aware of this, though.
A more subtle impact of UX best practices is our tendency – however great or small – to fall back on them when it comes to making a decision. We can’t deny that the level of variation in web design rapidly decreased as more UX best practices became accepted. Now, you could quite easily work your way through a design – without really needing to make a design choice – because best practices tell us where the navigation should go, how many columns to use and how the layout should adapt to screen sizes.
The counterargument, of course, is that websites look more similar these days because that’s what people want. While consistent experiences across different sites makes it easier for people to move from one to another and instantly understand what’s in front of them.
Chasing the latest design trends
Everybody loves banging on about web design trends. Type that horrible phrase into Google and you’ll be inundated with articles trying to tell you that serif typefaces, asymmetry and background patterns are trends for 2017 (I took all of those from the same article).
Despite the endless stream of ridiculous trend articles, there are genuine trends that take hold every year. Some real examples for 2017 could include, live chat widgets, multi-step web forms and voice search integrations. You could argue chatbots are a trend for this year but they’ve kind of stuttered since the start of 2017.
The point is, real design trends are new or revisited concepts and – like all trends – they tend to come and go. They also come with a number of UX implications that rarely get explored because trends are popular and everyone’s doing it.
Much like parallax scrolling, pointless hamburger navigations and popups in the past, brands jump on the latest trends without thinking about the impact on user experience. Search for “live chat” in Google and you’ll see plenty of marketers telling you how live chat (potentially) increases conversions.
What they don’t talk about is how it interrupts the user experience, distracts attention away from page content and weakens the impact of on-page marketing messages. This doesn’t mean live chat doesn’t have some positive things to offer – particularly in terms of customer service. But slapping live chat widgets all over homepages is a popular trend that tramples over the basic UX principles. This s something a lot of design trends share in common.
A/B testing minute details
The rise of UX design promptly gave birth to the phenomenon of conversion rate optimization (CRO) and its favorite grandchild, A/B testing. In theory, this was great. Now marketers, website owners and everyone in between was taking UX design seriously. Anyone can set up A/B tests, meaning we can test every single detail on our websites and become conversion champions!
Probably the worst piece of advice you can give anyone about CRO (unless you’re selling CRO software or services, of course).
The problem is, this approach to CRO actually takes our attention away from the UX design principles that matter most. The idea that changing the color of one CTA button can increase conversions by 300% has been sold to everyone – namely by the companies selling CRO software. What doesn’t get mentioned is that most A/B tests are highly flawed to begin with and any 300% conversion hike from a color change is clearly a major false positive.
More to the point, I would challenge anyone to find a single web page where there aren’t more important UX concerns than button colors.
Besides this, running countless tests on every detail on a website simply isn’t manageable. Especially once you realize each individual test is irrelevant to each other, due to constantly changing variables that make subsequent tests statistically insignificant.
Don’t get me wrong, A/B testing different versions of landing pages or web forms can be great – at least, if you know how to create reliable tests. But the notion of testing every detail on a website is good for user experience (not to mention time and budget) is only good for the firms selling CRO software.
Following the crowd with UX design
You don’t have to be a UX designer to create good online experiences. I’m no UX designer but I like to think I have a pretty good idea about what works, what doesn’t and how to go about proving it. This includes knowing when best practices should be applied and when you might need to explore other options.
This is where UX designers come into thier own, though. There’s a big difference between designing a site with the user experience in mind (which we should all be doing) and optimizing a site for better performance. There’s no room for assumption when it comes to UX design and following the crowd is a nasty habit many of us fall into – a habit that ends up killing the user experience rather than enhancing it.